Jean Coutu, O.C., O.Q., pharmacist, entrepreneur and philanthropist (born 29 May 1927 in Montreal, Quebec). Jean Coutu is the founder of the Jean Coutu Group, a chain of pharmacies established in 1969 under the name Pharm-Escomptes Jean Coutu. He is also the cofounder of the Marcelle and Jean Coutu Foundation, a private charitable foundation. Jean Coutu has received many honours and awards recognizing both his career and his philanthropy.
Early Years and Education
Jean Coutu is the son of Lucien Coutu, a pediatrician and family doctor in an eastern Montreal working-class neighbourhood. Jean Coutu studied medicine before receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry and physics from the Université de Montréal in 1949. In 1953, he received a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from the Université de Montréal and a pharmacy permit from the College of Pharmacists of Quebec. (See also Medical Education.)
Jean Coutu was still a student when he began working as a clerk for Pharmacies Leduc (see Pharmacy), at that time the largest of its kind in the Montreal area. He was named assistant manager and then manager of one of its pharmacies, which he propelled to the top of the Leduc chain. After graduation, he wanted to enter into a partnership of a Leduc store with two of his young colleagues. However, the Leduc family would not allow him to do so. Thus, in 1954, he became the manager of and a shareholder in a drugstore acquired by his cousin, Jean Locas (Pharmacie Jean Locas), located on Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal. Jean Coutu purchased two more drugstores with his cousin. However, in 1964, he was prevented from opening a fourth drugstore in his own name by the College of Pharmacists of Quebec, which was promoting legislation limiting to three the number of drugstores owned by a pharmacist. He contested the College’s decision and, with the assistance of the Lesage government, was able to have it reversed.
At that time, however, the introduction of health insurance and the proliferation of patented medicines were drastically changing the market (see Health Policy). Customers wanted both advice and the best possible prices. In 1967, Jean Coutu and his new partner, Louis Michaud, opened the Farmateria stores. Offering a discount on over-the-counter health, hygiene and beauty products, the Farmateria stores were an instant success, but also had many imitators.
Jean Coutu Group
In 1969, Jean Coutu and Louis Michaud established Pharm-Escomptes Jean Coutu, with longer business hours and a wide range of products. Jean Coutu invested his entire savings in this venture. The first pharmacy opened on the corner of Garnier and Mont-Royal in Montreal in June of that year. In 1980, Jean Coutu bought his partner out and became the sole owner of the Jean Coutu Group. In 1982, there were approximately 60 franchised Jean Coutu stores across Quebec. The first Jean Coutu drugstores located outside the province opened in New Brunswick in 1982 and Ontario in 1983. To support the expansion, Jean Coutu chose to franchise and, in 1986, listed the shares of the Jean Coutu Group on the stock market. Already a leader in Quebec, Jean Coutu purchased Maxi Drugs in the United States in 1987. With this purchase, he became the director of one of North America’s large pharmaceutical chains. His son, Michel Coutu, took over the management and chairmanship of the Jean Coutu Group U.S.A. Inc. In 1991, another son, François Coutu, became the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Jean Coutu Group.
In 2017, Metro Inc. announced its plans to acquire the Jean Coutu Group for $4.5 billion. The acquisition was finalized by Metro Inc. In May 2018.
In 1991, Jean Coutu and his wife Marcelle established the Marcelle and Jean Coutu Foundation to support both Quebec organizations and community development projects in Mali and Haiti (see Canadian Foundations). In 2000, the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem paid tribute to the Foundation’s humanitarian efforts by honouring the couple with the Scopus Award.
Jean Coutu chaired the task force on business and employment during the Summit on the Economy and Employment (Quebec, 1996) and sat on some ten boards of directors during his career. In 2005, the Université de Montréal building housing the Faculty of Pharmacy was named after him. His autobiography, entitled Sans prescription ni ordonnance, was published in 2010.
Awards and Honours
- Velan Award, Rotary Club of Montreal (1989)
- Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, Concordia University (1991)
- Officer of the National Order of Quebec (1993)
- Honorary Doctorate, Université Laval (1994)
- Officer of the Order of Canada (1994)
- Induction into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame (1999)
- Commander of the Ordre de Montréal (2016)
- Circle of Great Entrepreneurs of Quebec (2019)